America has changed a lot since I was a child, and one way is the fact that, at Easter time, a small shop not far from my childhood home once sold baby chicks and ducklings. This wasn’t a pet shop, mind you; it was simply a variety store that sold toys and toiletries and household items…and baby chicks and ducklings at Easter time.
So one sunny spring day, when I was about 8 years old, I pushed my life savings (a couple of quarters) into my pocket, walked over to the shop, and bought two baby chicks.
Peeping and pooping
I happily brought them home in a shoebox, peeping madly the whole way, and quickly slipped past my mother as she was teaching a piano lesson. Not sure where to put my fluffy new yellow chicks, and not wanting our cat to devour them, I went into the bathroom and shut the door. Then I took them out of the box, set them in the dry bathtub, and sat down on the toilet to watch.
One chick was tall and thin and fast. It went skittering about on the slick white surface, tumbling repeatedly, but getting up each time to continue running round and round the other one.
That other chick was short and fat and just sat there, pooping in the bathtub.
This is a true story. And the sad ending is true, too: No, the cat didn’t get them; my mother heard strange peeping sounds coming from the bathroom and made me take them right back to the shop.
To this day I can’t say why I bought those baby chicks (and why I wouldn’t have bought ducklings instead, considering they’re even cuter), but this is a story Lulu and Roy have eagerly asked me to repeat, over and over and over again.
Telling “Strange-But-True Tales”
Children love to hear the adventures of their parents when they were small—particularly, the amusing misadventures—and such stories can become a fun, memorable source of exposure to the minority language. I bet my kids will still be able to recount, long into the future, how their foolish father came home with two baby chicks one sunny spring day.
In fact, their demand for these “Strange-But-True Tales” is even greater than my supply. They ask for them so regularly at dinner time that I’m forced to wrack my brain for yet another fading memory. (Even a baby chick pooping in the bathtub gets old after a while. )
If you don’t have a habit of telling “Strange-But-True Tales” to your children, I would encourage you to think back to your childhood and jot down notes about some of your own little misadventures. I think you’ll find sharing such stories a delightful addition to your family life. Not only will your experiences provide a bounty of enjoyable language exposure, they’ll no doubt bring you and your children closer together and can even serve as natural opportunities for you to pass on the hard-won lessons you’ve learned.
Like, “Don’t bring home two baby chicks in a shoebox.”
(For another fun storytelling tactic, see Using Made-Up Memories to Engage Bilingual Kids.)